On the Road: Fresno State

Thanks to a good friend who is better to the athletic department than I, I was able to go to the Fresno State game with three friends. Two I play hockey with, the third, a '61 UW grad, is the person who convinced me to look into the University of Wisconsin to begin with. We've shared many phone calls celebrating Badger successes over the years, but we'd never made it to a game together, and she couldn't remember the last time she saw the Badgers live.

There are those that deride Fresno as the middle of nowhere, but that's way off base. California provides two-thirds of the nation's produce. The heart of California's agriculture is the San Joaquin Valley, and Fresno, at just shy of 500K people, is the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. A trip to Fresno is a trip to as "real" a part of California as it gets. Driving the three hours from San Francisco, though, you do drive through a lot of fields . . .

Once in Fresno, we parked our car at a lot next to the stadium then got a ride back to my aunt and uncle's house. They graciously took all four of us Badgers in, plus two more, while also inviting several Bulldog backer friends of theirs to a very nice cookout. After several beers, a brat, some tri-tip, and a few other goodies (including apple pie!), we caught another ride back towards the stadium.

One bonus of a 41,000 seat stadium is the traffic and parking isn't nearly as bad as it is for a Camp Randall sized joint. We arrived to the tailgating area immediately adjacent to the stadium at about 6:15. The tailgating was limited in scope, but people were having a good time. Proud Badgers, we immediately sought out a beer tent. An hour before kickoff we found it next to the ESPN tent:

Just after we got in the long line, would you believe -- an hour before kickoff -- they ran out of beer? Who did they think was coming, Utah? BYU? Folks, we're the University of Wisconsin, and we like our beer!

After recovering from the shock, we trudged towards the stadium gates, which were a little overwhelmed with the capacity crowd trying to get in. Along the way we ran into several very nice people who welcomed us and thanked us, and the Badgers, for making the trip -- and for not backing out, as other "big-time" programs might have done. We also ran into a handful of less welcoming people, but nothing beyond what a visitor might hear around Camp Randall, and not too much of it.

One of those less-friendly exchanges did lead to my favorite quote of the night. Three young guys walked by, said something nasty about how the Bulldogs were gonna kill us, drew their fingers across their throats to the same effect, then went on their way. Immediately afterwards a nice young lady, who saw the unfriendly welcome, apologetically said to us, "welcome to ghetto California." A funny comment, but not reflective of our visit. The overwhelming majority of Fresno State fans were nothing but hospitable.
The stadium is small, with a capacity at about 41,000, but it was a good crowd. We arrived in time for the National Anthem (sung well by the Badger fans -- don't think the Fresno crowd normally sings along with their band) and the Air National Guard F-16 flyover, which is always cool (and they stoked their afterburners for us as they cleared the stadium). The Bulldog band is very big -- maybe as big as ours. They don't have quite the buy-in that the 5th Quarter does, and aren't as exciting, but they did their part. The public address system left a little to be desired. Most of the officials' calls were difficult to understand, and even many of the announcements by the PA announcer were unintelligible. The canned music was loud. Fresno State like showing their bulldog mascot chewing on a badger stuffed animal on the jumbo-tron. All the Badger fans in the crowd thought it might turn out a little differently if they tried that with a real badger.

By game time the stadium was packed, with standing room only. The Fresno fans greeted the Badgers with the requisite boos, as our boys entered under the student section. The Bulldogs followed to a raucous greeting. The only thing that went wrong for them is it appeared their air-tent collapsed as they were finished running out. Then it was game time. Of course the right team won. The Fresno State D came up huge, stopping our first sustained drive on 3rd and 4th and goal, with just a yard or two to go. Still, we dominated the first half, and easily could have been ahead another 10, or even 17 points, but for the missed field goal (and poor time management) to end the half, that stellar goal-line stand the Bulldogs made, and a 10-yard holding penalty, committed behind the run on Evridge's option attempt near the Fresno State goal line, which led to the made field goal.

The second half, particularly the 3rd quarter, was another story. Chryst appeared to get a little too tricky by half, mixing in a little too much first-down passing for an offense that was dominating the line of scrimmage on runs. On top of that, we really hurt ourselves with holding and false-start penalties. On the other side of the ball, Fresno began to take advantage of over pursuit, running misdirection running plays, and our soft coverage, where the Bulldogs could hit a 5-7 yard out just about anytime they wanted. Poor tackling by Casillas and Valai led to the long touchdown on an underneath crossing patter that looked much like something you might see Beckum run for us.

Mistakes all over the place for both teams. Both teams defenses dropped what may well have gone for pick-6's (Levy had no one in front of him and a short way to go; the Bulldog corner probably would have gone the distance, but had a much longer way to go). We had the kick at the end of the half, and a punt in the 3rd quarter blocked. Fresno State's kicker didn't sleep well, after missing 3, maybe 4 (?), field goals. Finally, Pat Hill should have gone for it at the end on 4th and 16 with two minutes to play. Whether they get the first down or not, they have to hold Wisconsin without a first down to get the ball back. Why not take your shot at mid-field, using the downs you have? Of course, Badger fans weren't thrilled with the fumble that was overturned -- I understand ESPN's commentators felt the same way.

The crowd was excellent. 42,000 people can't get as loud as the Camp at capacity, but they were pretty darned loud. In the second half when every series counted and the game was close, they made it tough on the Badgers' offense, probably leading to some of the false starts. The only real negatives I saw from the Fresno fans was the couple that threw t-shirts (shot out of a cannon into the crowd throughout the game) at the Badger cheerleader running our flag in the endzone after a score. Classless, but that was just a couple of bad apples. The rest of the crowd was great. At the end, the Bulldog fans were sober and downcast -- as any team on the losing end of that kind of game would be. But they did their part, represented Fresno State and supported their team as well as a home crowd can. Not surprisingly, Badger fans were a testament to our school. We easily sold our allotment of tickets, and there were more sprinkled throughout the stadium. During the official time-out for the review, the FSU coaching staff was a little ashamed at the noise coming from the Badger's cheering sections, and had to exhort the crowd to retaliate and drown us out. Similarly, the Bulldog band, seated in front of us, was called on a few times to try and play over us.

Leaving the stadium was a slow process, as there aren't enough gates, but the near-full moon over head was a nice bit of scenery while we waited. Appropriate that visitors from America's Dairyland would feel like cattle heading in and out of the stadium. Again, traffic wasn't too bad, and we made it back to my aunt and uncles' to share a couple more beers, have breakfast in the morning, and drive -- very happily -- back to the Bay Area.

All in all, a great trip. Both teams played hard, and both defenses were a testament to their schools. I fully expected an offensive show, but between both offenses making mistakes, and the Defenses stepping up and making plays, it was anything but. Although our over sized offensive line had a clear advantage over Fresno State's front 7, those guys battled and made a bunch of big plays.

Kudos to the Bulldogs. We look forward to seeing you in Madison next year. I recommend a home-and-home with the Bulldogs for any Big Ten program worth its salt. The meek need not apply.

1 comment:

FSDogs1 said...

Very nice, fair blog post! Wish I would have found your blog BEFORE the game!

It's not usually that tough to get into the gates before gametime. I lined up at 6:30 and barely made it for kickoff after sprinting up the plethora of stairs and over to our seats. I believe some of the gates were closed for construction reasons (a women's soccer/lacrosse facility is being built just outside the entrance on the east side).

Wisconsin is one heck of an upstanding program and an example to all those in the "good ol' boys" network who don't want to give opportunities to the up and coming programs. We sure hope Wisconsin doesn't hesitate to return to Bulldog Stadium soon -- it would be a great intersectional rivalry to kick off!

P.S. Didn't encounter one, single rude Badgers fan, which is the first time I can ever honestly say that for a visiting team who brings a lot of fans (Oregon State, Oregon, Boise State, Hawaii, San Jose State, Cal).

Hope you win out the rest of the way...